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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

Mayor calls for energy research center here

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Finkbeiner Finkbeiner
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Gov. Ted Strickland was asked last night to take his goal of diversifying Ohio's mix of energy sources to the next level by building a state research center in Toledo.

Under a proposal outlined in a letter from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, such a facility would be called the Ohio Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development.

It would coordinate research by state universities and corporations operating in Ohio and "be designed to bring together all of the assets in Ohio to provide sustainable power for Ohio's future," the proposal stated.

The proposal is the result of months of behind-the-scenes work by the mayor's office, the University of Toledo, and numerous other regional business, economic, environmental, academic, and government officials, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Details are to be released during a news conference at 2 p.m. today in West Toledo.

A copy of Mr. Finkbeiner's letter was provided to The Blade.

In it, the mayor told Mr. Strickland that an energy research center "would allow us to leverage northwest Ohio's resources to spur your vision of a greener, healthier, and more economically vibrant Ohio."

He also told the governor he wants to "continually pursue energy alternatives so that we are never again in the position that we must rebuild an antiquated energy infrastructure."

Mr. Finkbeiner said last night he doesn't have a construction figure in mind.

"If the state wants to give us a separate campus, fine. But if it tied it into the technology corridor at UT, that would be more cost intelligent," he said.

"Toledo is very well positioned, in my opinion, to take advantage of entrepreneurial start-ups," he said.

Regardless of the cost, it appears officials are thinking big.

In their proposal, they encouraged Mr. Strickland to build a center that could someday convince the U.S. Department of Energy to choose Toledo as the site for a federal facility that specializes in solar power.

Much of that work is done at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

A state research center could plant the seed for federal work in Toledo that "would strengthen Ohio's place on the national scene," according to the proposal.

Keith Dailey, the governor's press secretary, told The Blade last night the governor's office had just received the letter.

"We will be following up to discuss the specifics of this proposal," he said.

In his letter and in a combination of recent interviews, Mr. Finkbeiner made a case for why Toledo is poised to host a renewable-energy research center.

UT, he said, has emerged as a leader in several facets of energy research - but particularly that derived from the sun.

In their proposal, officials noted UT's Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, created with an $18.6 million grant through Ohio's Third Frontier research funding program.

It has spurred millions of dollars in matching grants, and involved another area university, Bowling Green State, as well as the state's largest, Ohio State University.

Phoenix-based First Solar Inc. has one of the world's largest production facilities for thin-film solar panels in Perrysburg Township.

Those are the type of panels that experts say have the potential for breaking new ground for the solar industry because of their relative efficiency and affordability.

The Andersons, based in Maumee, is investing heavily in plants that will produce more ethanol, the grain-based gasoline additive that weakens fuel economy but helps automobiles run cleaner.

Congress is considering legislation to double ethanol production by next summer and triple it again by 2022, including ethanol derived from corn stalks and other plant fibers.

Mr. Finkbeiner also noted the four American Municipal Power-Ohio wind turbines in the Wood County landfill along U.S. 6, west of Bowling Green. They are owned by a consortium of 10 municipalities, and a developer, JW Great Lakes Wind LLC, is working with AMP-Ohio on plans for more northwest of there.

The proposal outlines work a state research center could do with parties in northeast Ohio on possible development of offshore wind turbines in Lake Erie.

The western basin, though more affordable to develop, has greater developmental obstacles because of bird flyways.

The proposal is in response to Governor Strickland's energy plan announced Aug. 29. It calls for at least 25 percent of Ohio's electricity to come from yet-to-be-developed cleaner coal technologies, nuclear power, and renewable energy by 2025.

At least half of that - 12.5 percent or more of the state's total - would have to come from solar, wind, or other forms of renewable power.

Ohio is now one of the least- diversified states for energy production, with 95 percent of the state's electricity derived from coal-fired power plants. Several of those have been the subject of federal litigation because of the pollution they emit.

Billions are being spent to modernize such plants nationally.

Ohio, with its vast population and industrial base, is the nation's fifth-largest energy user.

Mr. Strickland's energy plan has some parallels to those in the District of Columbia as well as 27 states, where legislatures have adopted various forms of a "renewable energy portfolio standard" which mandates a more diversified energy mix.

In Colorado, voters initiated and passed that state's version for such a requirement.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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